Secondary Trauma: A Consequence Of A Veteran’s PTSD That Can Affect You

July 4th weekend, I spoke about PTSD, trauma and secondary trauma to a group of individuals who were honoring veterans. One veteran’s wife told me of the secondary trauma she is experiencing as a result of her husband’s injury and ensuing PTSD. Though valiant, determined and committed to making sure her husband’s needs were met, she only recently realized how his trauma was affecting her. Yet, it is common for those who care for victims of trauma and PTSD, especially veteran’s families, to suffer from secondary trauma.

Are you a victim of secondary trauma?

PTSD and military family
How does a veteran’s family deal with secondary trauma?

Another dear woman who also had cared for an injured veteran, confessed having her own “aha” moment about secondary trauma. The realization of how she still carried the results of what she went through as a wife of a wounded veteran is often how the story of secondary trauma begins.

Spouses, children and caretakers of traumatically injured individuals may suffer secondary trauma.

After my presentation, others approached me to share how secondary trauma impacted veteran’s children. The effects of secondary trauma can be especially destructive when they become passed down from a sufferer’s family to the next generation of children.

When values from secondary trauma are passed from one generation to another (trans-generation) it becomes a perpetual negative cycle that causes families to operate from fear, anxiety and other destructive, unhealthy values. This downward spiral is particularly wretched for families.

The definition of secondary or vicarious trauma.

Secondary trauma is commonly referred to as “the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person.” However, Dr. Laurie Pearlman, an expert in the trauma field, prefers the term vicarious trauma to describe the “cumulative transformative effect of working with survivors of traumatic life events.”

Thousands upon thousands of individuals in the roles of caregiver, friend, professional or family member, who care for those who are traumatized, are going through their own version of post-traumatic stress. Often, these caregivers are unaware of their symptoms. Moreover, they are unaware they are developing protective and hyper-vigilant core beliefs—perceptions of how to manage and survive life.

For victims of vicarious trauma, it can be a very lonely world.

Those who suffer from secondary trauma can be embarrassed to admit they have been adversely affected. It is time that we allow those caregivers to have a forum to be transparent and get help.

There are probably as many symptoms of secondary trauma as there are people who experience it. However, here are some of the more prominent symptoms:

  • intrusive thoughts
  • chronic fatigue
  • sadness
  • anger
  • poor concentration
  • second guessing
  • detachment
  • emotional exhaustion
  • fearfulness
  • shame
  • physical illness
  • absenteeism
  • anxiety/panic attacks
  • insomnia
  • relational discord

Whether resulting from service in the military or other situations causing traumatic injury, these and other symptoms represent consequences of PTSD. Most of these dear caregivers have been through so much, and yet, are still giving to their family members. They, too, need to be able to share how vicarious trauma has impacted their lives and to get the help they need to cope and survive these life dominating issues.

Sometimes the needs of those who suffer secondary trauma get lost in the function or recognition of the trauma of those for whom they give care. I want to make sure we acknowledge their sacrifice and to bring awareness to the needs of those who experience this consequence of service and commitment.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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